Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Faith on the Frontstretch: After Up-and-Down Year, Denny Hamlin Takes Win at Talladega

Denny Hamlin takes the checkered flag at Talladega, May 4, 2014
Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images  
 “ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

Denny Hamlin earned a trip to Victory Lane at Talladega this week, clinching a two-for-two race weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing. The previous night, the other No. 11 team was victorious, as Elliott Sadler took the checkers in the Nationwide event, with the same over-the-wall crew pitting both winning cars.

The Cup win was a much-needed boost for Hamlin and crew chief, Darian Grubb, giving them a tentative Chase spot or at least a one-up on much of the competition.

Hamlin and his crew weren’t faring as well a year ago, though. This time last season, after sitting out several weeks with a compression fracture in his back, he got back in the car to start the Talladega race then turned it over to relief driver, Brian Vickers. Hamlin went back to racing full-time the next week but still struggled with back pain through the mid-season and missed the Chase.

Crew chief Darian Grubb explained the rollercoaster ride they’ve been on since then: “We had all of our hopes set on making the Chase, and then when we didn't, that kind of let the steam out of our sails for the rest of the (2013) season. Being able to get back on track and win Homestead and have a really good start to this season with Daytona was great, and then we realized we still were behind.”

Winning the final race at Homestead and the season opener in Speed Weeks in 2014 was followed by more struggles, including Hamlin sitting out at Fontana a few weeks ago after a tiny piece of metal lodged in his eye, causing vision issues.

So now the team is on the upswing again, with this win at Talladega providing a lift.

“… now that we have a win, we don't have to hit the panic button or press too hard to get a win to get into the Chase,” Hamlin said. “... we need to be consistent, work on our program, just continue to keep our heads down and work on things, and momentum comes with good results.”

Besides Hamlin and other drivers, you know who else struggles sometimes? Everyone! This race of life is like a restrictor plate track — you do what you can, hope for the best and pray.

J.D. Gibbs summed it up in his post-race comments at Talladega: “You know, a lot of Talladega and Daytona is kind of out of your hands, and so really you just kind of hope the Lord has a good plan for you, and today He did, and yesterday He did.”

Gibbs was talking about superspeedway racing, but his statement pertains to our lives, too.

The one thing we can be sure of is that God does have a good plan for each of us, even though it doesn’t always seem like it. Some days will be like Hamlin’s Talladega win, where we turn our faces to the sun and enjoy the shining moment. Other times won’t be easy or fun, and we’ll have to claw our way through difficulties.

Some problems seem insurmountable, kinda like riding around in the back at Talladega with no way to get to the front. We’ll never know — this side of heaven — what purpose those troubles serve in our lives. But having faith in God’s plan brings comfort and hope to help us pick up the draft and persevere, even amidst the most devastating heartache.

If you’re hurting today, questioning how your current situation could ever lead to victory or have any divine purpose, I’m with you. Life is hard. But thankfully, we can put our trust in God, who offers help and hope.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11
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If you’re struggling and feeling alone, and would like someone to pray for you, let me know. Comment below or send me an e-mail at bbreinke@skirtsandscuffs.com

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“Faith on the Frontstretch” appears every 1st & 3rd Wednesday and explores the role of faith in motorsports. Comments or twitter follows welcome: @bbreinke. See you on the Frontstretch!

Want more racing devotions? When you donate $25 to Skirts and Scuffs, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Beth’s book, Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a month-long, pocket-sized devotional book for NASCAR fans. Or you can purchase the book in paperback & ebook here.

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